“I wasn’t necessarily for it when I first started hearing about it, but then I got chosen to go to this thing and I wasn’t even all that thrilled about going … but once we went, it was fantastic,” said Michael Welskop, an eighth-grade math teacher at Simpson Middle School.
The Simpson Foundation helped pay for four teachers, including Welskop, to attend the four-day conference in Orlando, Fla.
Welskop said administrators and county level supervisors were persuaded to let teachers implement technology initiatives because of the conference.
“They heard from the experts that you’ve got to let kids do this,” he said. “Before, it was almost like they didn’t want us doing some of these things (cell phones in the class or Internet access). Now, thanks to the conference and this kind of change in mind shift, they are supporting us and making it easier for us to do these things, and we’re seeing some bigger payoff from it.”
At the conference, they learned about teaching tools such as Remind 101 and QR codes and teaching methods including flipped classrooms and Bring Your Own Device.
Remind 101 is a tool that allows teachers to text students and parents to keep them informed about class events or deadlines.
QR codes are barcode-like images students can scan with their smartphones, which then load a website, video or other information.
In a “flipped classroom,” which the school board first discussed last spring, students watch lectures online at home and do what would typically be their homework during class time.
In a BYOD class, students are encouraged to bring laptops, tablets or other electronic devices to class.
“We came back from the conference and instantly started figuring out how we can do things, and we presented it to all the principals at the leadership kick-off conference (in early August),” Welskop said.
Since then, Welskop and a score of other teachers have introduced these learning tools to the sixth- through eighth-grade students at Simpson.
“If the BYOD thing works really well and some of the flipped classroom works really well, I foresee my students’ test scores going up,” he said. “The kids are getting more out of it.”
His colleague, Marcie Donaldson, who has been at Simpson Middle for 24 years and a teacher for 25, is a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade academics habits and gifted instructor.
She uses many of the technology tools Welskop does, in addition to Blackboard, which allows to students view instructional content, take quizzes and tests, and participate in a virtual classroom online.
“This year, we’ve made great strides,” she said. “This has been a way to advance students.”
Donaldson said she’s been able to teach at a higher level.
“We’re teaching how our world is thinking,” she said. “We have to change if society is changing.”
Like Welskop and Donaldson, eighth-grade language arts teacher Macon Weaver has introduced the new teaching methods into his curriculum, including teacher blogs that are tailored to each of his classes that offer students and parents access to homework assignments, review of supplemental materials and important messages.
He said technology has created a better learning environment for him and his students.
“I wouldn’t say it’s making our jobs easier, but I think it’s making it easier for us to help more students,” Weaver said. “It’s more time-affective. Our channels for communication have broadened beyond the walls within the time frame of a school day.”
All three teachers said their students are using technology respectfully.
“They know when they can or can’t use technology,” Weaver said.
Welskop said it’s important for students to learn to use the technology responsibly because by the time they get to college, if they haven’t figure that out, they’ll get kicked out of class.
“They are getting some of those lessons in the classroom now that they didn’t have before,” he said.
The teachers also said they haven’t heard any negative feedback from parents who were initially a little hesitant because of the safety issue in regards to online access.
“Things are blocked for safety,” Donaldson said. “There are filters online.”
Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said the district has taken precautions to ensure students aren’t visiting inappropriate websites.
“Like most school districts, we also block access to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter,” he said. “Even with those protections in place, some breaches are inevitable. But I view those transgressions as behavioral problems, not technology problems.”
Hinojosa said he has been very encouraged by the technology pushes of the district both before and after employees attended the Model Schools Conference.
“You have heard me say before that we can no longer afford the model of public education we have now,” he said. “The education landscape is changing, and technology is the catalyst. We want to be prepared for the model that emerges, and even more importantly, we want our students to be prepared for the world in which they will live and work.”